LA Art Show


The LA Art Show is one of the longest running art fairs in Los Angeles, CA and something like 50,000 people attend every year. But I have to give a little backstory before we get into the gist of things.

A few years prior to our involvement in the show, the owner of Red Truck Gallery in New Orleans (and current member of our advisory board) set up a new section of the event called Littletopia. I think the idea was to bring in younger galleries and therefore attract a hipper audience. As a writer, I had covered the show for many years and their section was always my favorite. So, when Noah came by my gallery during one of his trips to Los Angeles, I mentioned it would be epic if we could have a booth at the next show.

Knowing that it would be too expensive for me to have my own booth at the fair, I asked Noah if I could split it with another gallery. Not too long afterwards, we got the green light from the show's producers and filled out all the paperwork. The Littletopia section had discounted booths already compared to the rest of the fair and so we ended up paying $2800 for a 5 x 5ft space over the course of 5 days. The other galleries in our section were paying around $5000 for a 10 x 10ft booth and then the rest of the fair was paying something like double that amount (if not more). It's really insane when you think about it - especially considering the LA Art Show is one of the more "affordable" options in terms of fairs out there.

I wanted to treat the LA Art Show like an exhibit rather than a supplementary addition to what we were doing in the gallery. Most of the other galleries at this show bring a selection of works to represent their gallery as a whole, instead of make a specific exhibition for it. But keep in mind, while we were setting up for the fair I was also scouring the whole entire city of Los Angeles with the help of a friend looking for a new location. We would send offers to landlords and for some reason or another they would fall through. Too small, too expensive, too …. anyways. My friend was epic for helping me and I learnt a lot during the process about how to find locations - since the original one had fallen into my lap.

The LA Art Show on the other hand was chaos for us. First, I probably pissed them off by only wanting to split a booth. In fact, they were giving me a headache about this by asserting trivial rules into place - like only one of our names could be on their website and 3 or 4 other things along those lines - all of which, I managed to negotiate them out of. But, then I really pissed them off by sending out an email with a blog post saying we hacked the LA Art Show to give everyone free tickets.

It was all a hoax. I hadn’t hacked anything, since I don’t know how to hack, but I knew it would be a captivating headline.

Here’s what really happened. The show’s producers sent all the galleries a link to give our patrons free tickets to the fair, which normally cost something like $25 each. They also gave us 4 VIP passes that got you into the preview night, which normally cost upwards of $250 each. 

Rather then put an email out, like everyone else, saying ‘here’s free tickets to the show’ - I thought it would be more fun to say we hacked their website and also include a whole guide to the cheapest parking, food, and other ‘life hacks’ for our patrons. Anyways, enough people utilized the free tickets from my email blast that it came to the attention of the producers. 

They called me saying that ‘draconian’ actions would be taken if I didn’t delete the blog post. And then they also kept asking about how I was able to hack into their system. All of which was hilarious to me because I didn’t hack anything, nor am I even capable of doing so. Needless to say, it made emotions tense.

It didn’t help either, that on top of that situation, the contract we had to sign for the show said that all the art had to be hung ‘museum style’ in orderly rows - whereas the whole plan I had devised was for an interactive bakery with shelves and chaos and live painting. I knew it would be epic and that I just had to ignore their stupid rules. I also knew if I got enough press for our installation there was nothing the producers could do to stop us without looking like fools. 

It became my mission at that point to get as much press coverage as possible. Almost every news outlet that covered art wrote about our bakery and what we were going to do and it was epic. I built the shelves, John Kilduff built a drying rack, and Turtle Wayne flew in to take part as well. We assembled everything inside the convention center at the last possible moment - so it would be a pain for the fair to have us deinstall it. And then, when the doors finally opened, we let loose. 

Yelling and screaming and carnival barking (well, at least I was) to attract passerby’s attention, which worked. People stopped and bought art from us who would normally just walk around sneering. I engineered our pricing so nothing would be above $100, which was scary because everyone around us had works priced well into the thousands, tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands. One of the people I looked up to as an arts writer, Mat Gleason, even mentioned us as his favorite booth when he was interviewed on NPR about the show.

Don’t get it twisted, I was nervous when we walked in to set everything up. The convention center was so big and we were so small - literally half of the smallest sized booth available. It felt like David & Goliath and it was an epic because in the end we won. But not without pissing off at least two other galleries along with the producers of the show. The gallery behind us got pissed because I brought a speaker and started playing Michael Jackson songs really loud to get everyone pumped up and excited in the morning. And the second booth across from us walked over to tell us to keep our voices down. We were rebels at the fair and we won.

Turtle Wayne even came up with a great idea to mess with the fair’s producers by constantly requesting slips of paper that were required when walking out of the show with art. Don’t get me wrong, we sold a lot of art, but we made the fair think we sold far more than I think is even possible. I still have stacks of the slips somewhere and they make me laugh every time I see them.

In the end, the LA Art Show was great. We made a lot of money, sold a lot of art, and had a lot of fun. But the search for a new gallery location continued.

Daniel Rolnik Foundation